If I ever become famous, and someone asks me which book influenced me most, I have the answer prepared. I’ve had the answer prepared for years. And I don’t think I’ll ever need to use it. So I might as well tell you now.

Somewhere in the attic of my parents’ house lives a chest full of notebooks. I filled their pages during middle school and high school: periods of time where I wrote every day, sometimes for hours at a time. Writing was both my passion and my escape. And I thought, rather naively, that I would someday cherish all I wrote down in those notebooks. Which are still somewhere safe, I think.

Reading was another escape of mine. I loved the beat poets (angsty aspiring high school writer who loves Jack Kerouac? What a novelty!) and used their books and poetry as a reminder that my high school life was just one small step before my awesome life began (which, by the way, turned out to be true). I dreamed of becoming friends with people who loved the Beats. My dream came true at a summer writing camp, and then at college.

In college, I stopped obsessing about the Beats when it was no longer a novelty (sell out!), and fell in love with a slew of great writers. My fantasies of writing the next great American novel continued.

You would think, from this story, the book that influenced me most was On the Road, or something by Shakespeare, or Song of Myself, but its not. It’s Maiden Voyage by Tania Aebi.

Maiden Voyage is not a great work of literature. Tania Aebi is a decent writer, but not a great one. Maiden Voyage is the true, autobiographical story of how Tania Aebi circumnavigated the globe solo in a sailboat when she was 18 years old. I read it between my sophmore and junior year of college.

I loved reading about each step of her incredible¬† journey around the world. And when I finished the book, I realized that I didn’t care all that much anymore about writing beautifully or describing the human condition or winning the Pulitzer Prize. Above all those things, I wanted to live a life worth writing about. And my life took on a new perspective.

Since then, I’ve gone on many, wonderful adventures. I have blessed to have a job that, despite its many flaws, is interesting and gives me good stories to tell at parties. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks, Tania!

(A shipmate and me off the coast of Canada)

(Will and me at the top of Grey’s Peak)

RECIPE NON SEQUITUR!

PRETZEL AND NUT SNACK MIX (from David Lebovitz)

What kind of a blog is this becoming anyway? I tell you a story about my personal development and then I throw a recipe in for good measure? What the hell?

This snack mix is very good but spicy. Beware. Its a little sweet, a little salty, and VERY spicy. Decrease the cayenne pepper if you want to take fewer than a gulp of water after every two bites.

Ingredients

2 cups (200 gr) mixed raw nuts (untoasted); any combination of cashews, whole almonds, peanuts, pecan halves, and hazelnuts

1 tablespoon (15 gr) unsalted butter, melted

3 tablespoons (45 gr) dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or another red pepper)

1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon flaky sea salt or kosher salt

2 cups (100 gr) small pretzel twists

Recipe

Toast nuts. Place nuts on a baking sheet in a single later, and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, stirring once or twice so the nuts don’t burn. Keep oven on.

Mix melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, cayenne, and maple syrup together in a bowl. Add nuts, and stir until combined (the warmth of the nuts will help the flavors melt together). Then add pretzels and salt.

Pour mixture onto baking sheet, pat into a single even layer, and bake for 12-18 minutes. Stir mixture two times during cooking. Remove from oven and, when cool enough to handle but still warm, separate pretzels from nuts as the mixture cools. Serve and enjoy.



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I tend to shy away from things described as “health food.” I want a food to be primarily described as delicious. I want it’s healthiness to be present, but not obvious. But I do eat a decent amount of granola bars. They are portable snacks that can be quickly consumed on ski lifts or when I need a quick bite at the hospital. However, I have many bones to pick with almost every granola bar on the market. Here are my general vendettas against granola bars.

Granola bars are not healthy, but are marketed as a “health food.” They are sugar-y, they are carb-y. They are not filling enough, and if they are filling enough they remind me of a moist brick (yes, Larabar, I’m looking at you). And to top it all off, they’re expensive!

But recently, I tried a granola bar that I really like. They come in tasty flavors (Macadamia Apricot and Almond Coconut being two of my favorites). And they don’t taste much like a granola bar. They taste a lot like fruit and nuts that happen to be bound together in bar form. They have a good nutrition profile too: they’re gluten free, they’re low in carbs, they’re high in fiber and protein. (I’m leaving them unnamed because I don’t want this to sound like a product endorsement. But I’m happy to let you know what they are if you ask). The only problem is, they’re $1.50 a bar. I don’t want to pay that if I can make my own at home in 30 minutes.

I began my granola bar project by looking up recipes online. If you think packaged granola bars are unhealthy, you should see some of the homemade ones! Tons of butter/oil and sugar. I’m pretty sure most cookies have fewer calories and taste way better.

So I decided to just make it up and figure it out along the way. I knew I wanted them to be mostly apricot, almond, and coconut, but I also knew they’d need a bit of sweetener and a binding agent (a liquid protein of some kind) to make them stick together. My cousin, Amy, told me about a Weight Watchers Granola Recipe where eggs act as the binder, so I decided to try that.

I added some canola oil, flaxseed (to increase the fiber and also because I like the seedy crunch), and a little sugar. And that’s it!

I think I’ll be making a big batch every couple weeks for skiing or for work. I’m looking forward to trying different combinations of fruit and nuts, too. Tell me about the combinations you like!

ELIZABETH’S GLUTEN-FREE GRANOLA BARS (by me)

Makes 8 bars. Each bar has about 210 calories.

For the fruit, I used unsweetened apricots. For the nuts, I used almonds. I highly recommend this combination.

Ingredients

2/3 cup raw nuts

1/4 cup flax seeds

2/3 cup dried fruit, (preferably unsweetened) rough chopped

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

3 tbsp canola oil

2 raw eggs

1/4 cup sugar

Nonstick cooking spray

Recipe

Preheat oven to 375. In a food processor, grind almonds to a coarse meal. Add all remaining ingredients (except cooking spray, of course) to food processor. Grind until all ingredients are incorporated. Spray an 8 x 8 pan with cooking spray, then pat down the batter to cover the bottom of the pan evenly. Bake 15-20 minutes, until top is browned.

I bet you’re wondering what to make for the Superbowl this weekend. Meet my favorite guacamole. It’s got 5/5 stars on The Food Network website for a reason. It’s spicy, salty, and nearly impossible to stop eating. I even dipped vegetables into it when the tortilla chips ran out!

But I don’t need to worry about running out of tortilla chips anymore, because my friend, Angela, taught me how easy it is to make my own at home. You simply cut the tortilla into triangles, place them on a cookie sheet, spray them with butter flavored cooking spray, sprinkle on some salt, and bake. And tortillas freeze well, so you can make small batches of chips on demand. So if I want a handful tortilla chips with lunch, they’re only 15 minutes away.

Well, I hope you enjoy this recipe from The Food Network. Which, although I use it often, is at times the lamest website. For instance, they posted a recipe for Dark Chocolate As A Snack. There is actually a group of people who find these lame recipes and comment on them enough to make them “popular” on the Food Network Website. Please check out their most famous handiwork, at Late Night Bacon.

MY FAVORITE GUACAMOLE AND TORTILLA CHIPS (Guac from Alton Brown, Tortilla Chips from my friend Angela)

Guacamole Ingredients

  • 3 Haas avocados, halved, seeded and peeled
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 2 tomatoes (preferably Roma) seeded and diced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Guacamole Recipe

Toss the avocado pulp and lime juice in a large bowl. Mush salt, cumin, and cayenne into the avocodo/lime mixture.. Gently fold in the onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and garlic. Serve at room temperature.

Tortilla Chip Ingredients

Corn tortillas (fresh or defrosted enough to cut)

Butter flavored cooking spray

Salt

Tortilla Chip Recipe

Preheat oven to 400. Cut tortillas into pie-shaped wedges (I like 4-6 per tortilla). Spread tortilla triangles on a cookie sheet. Spray with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until chips are lightly browned at edges (the time varies widely depending on the brand, but it usually takes me 7-10 minutes if fresh, 12-17 minutes if frozen).

soft pretzels

February 9, 2010

I made these soft pretzels for a Superbowl Party hosted by our friends. Now all of my friends in this friend group are absurdly talented. I mean make-their-own-baby-clothes, make-marshmallows-from-scratch, tile-their-own-bathrooms-talented, and we always seem to enjoy thinking of real show-stoppers to make for potlucks. So I thought a mini version of soft pretzels might go ¬†over well, and they were a big hit! I was surprised because I thought they weren’t as difficult as I’d expected. There were a lot of steps, but none of them were too tricky.

I tried a few with cinnamon and sugar but they just weren’t as good. I think you need to add a LOT of sugar to make it work. If you’d like to try it, I’d suggest brushing the pretzels with butter instead of egg+water, then adding about one tablespoon sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon to each pretzel. But I still maintain that the plain old rock salt and some spicy mustard for dipping are the very best. Especially when accompanied by a nice cold beer.

Also, a note. This dough calls for warm water. With bread dough, it is always better for your water to be too cool than too hot. Water that is too hot will kill the yeast and your dough won’t rise. To test the temperature of the water (because both my cheap candy thermometer and my cheap meat thermometer are off by a good 20-30 degrees–if you buy one, buy an EXPENSIVE or at least moderately priced one) use my mom’s trick: run the water over the skin of your inner wrist. The skin there is thin, and will help you feel the true temperature of the water.

This recipe is from smittenkitchen.com (the BEST food blog, if you ask me)

SOFT PRETZELS (by Deb from smittenkitchen.com)