Monday was granola day. This is a ritual that our household enjoys that seems to make everything run just a little better. It could be a Saturday just as easily, it is the day when two to four baking sheets of granola are cooked until golden brown. We all love to break off a big hunk of just cooled stuff and munch it down. This is righteous snacking. Homemade granola is light years from the highly processed stuff outa the box and so easy. I’m not sure why it took us so long to start making our own . . . now I remember.
A few years ago, I witnessed my teenaged son consume a box of granola in two sittings. I was happy that he enjoyed this wholesome cereal but I was also alarmed at the cost of such a simple food not to mention the processing and packaging. I read the ingredients: oats, honey, vegetable oil, almonds, sunflower seeds, sea salt. No mystery there. I remember my sister-in-law, Mim baking granola in their old kitchen in Victoria.
Hmm, if she can make granola then so can we. Before big food processors, people just made granola with stuff they had around. I experimented a bit and crafted a recipe that is tasty, easy to make and flexible as far as ingredients. You don’t have to be a hippie to make this crunchy granola.
Lisa’s Crunchy Granola
1/2 C honey
1/3 C vegetable oil – we like coconut or sustainably grown red palm oil
2 Tbs sugar
Pinch sea salt
4-5 C old-fashioned rolled oats
1 C almonds, rough chopped
1/4 C pumpkin seeds
1/4 C sunflower seeds
2 Tbs sesame seeds
2 Tbs flax seeds
2 Tbs chia seeds
1 C dried fruit: raisins, craisins, goji, golden berries, apricots, cherries (optional)
1 C unsweetened ground coconut (optional)
*If you don’t use all of the seeds or nuts, just add a few more oats.
Preheat oven to 350°
then turn down to 300° when baking
In small sauce pan warm honey (and oil if it is solid) and dissolve sugar and salt. Mixture should be warm and runny so that it incorporates with the oats easily.
Put oats in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or a large bowl and mix by hand. Mix on low adding honey/oil all at once, mix until incorporated then add nuts, seeds and coconut if using. Mix until well incorporated. Spread in an even layer on two rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Turn oven down to 300° and bake for 13 minutes. Turn pans and switch shelves and bake another 13 minutes. Put baking sheets on cooling racks and sprinkle with dried fruit. Carefully press dried fruit into hot granola. Let granola cool completely before putting in glass jars. Enjoy!
I brought home a tall stack of new-to-me soup bowls from the thrift store and proceeded to peel off the first price sticker which ripped and shredded, leaving a half-on half-off sticky mess. What was the best way to get persistent goo off my new ceramics?
I filled the sink with warm soapy water and washed off most of the sticker paper. There was still a big round gooey area left after the bowls were rinsed and air dried. Rubbing the goo with a towel just seared it more. I tried isopropyl alcohol but the goo remained.
“What about a little WD-40?” a little voice in my head suggested. I’ve used the stinky lubricant as a solvent for grease and other persistent residues . . . no way was I spraying that toxic stuff on my dishes. Maybe an edible oil might work just as well. I put a drop of vegetable oil on the gooey area and rubbed it in with my finger, slowly the goo lifted off the ceramic and then wiped off easily with a paper towel. Vegetable oil is an excellent, non-toxic solvent for any tape residue left on solid surfaces. I bet in a pinch I could rub a greasy French fry on my dishes but for now, I’ll just use a drop of canola.
I am keenly aware that one person’s weed is another person’s treasure. This is the case with one of my favorite uninvited garden guests, mullein. Verbascum thapsus is a class 3 noxious weed and a nuisance for farmers. In the children’s garden, it is a much appreciate biennial plant. Nicknamed the toilet paper plant, mullein’s fuzzy silver leaves are caressed and petted by children then used in all manner of imaginative ways to carpet bug and fairy houses or garden shrines. I like mullein for this and many other reasons.
Mullein is a biennial which means it grows one year and flowers the next. Leaves are large – 12” to 18” ovals covered with soft fuzz that also contain sharp bristle hairs. Contrary to its nickname, I would not recommend wiping your butt with this leaf, no siree. For emergency toilet paper, I would pick leaves that are cool and soothing like dock or malva but that’s another story. Mullein is a medicinal plant used to heal earaches and lung ailments. Dried leaves are used in teas and smoked. Flowers are infused in oil and used for ear infections.
In its second year of life, a single, impressive flower stalk emerges from the large rosette of silver fuzz. Rising to over 7 feet tall, it is covered with yellow flowers that attract umpteen pollinators. Flowers wither and are replaced by seed pods that contain thousands of tiny seeds. One flower stalk can produce more than a half million seeds, this is why it is such a nuisance for farmers. Many mullein plants will produce additional flower heads along the central stalk. Dried mullein flower stalks can be dipped in tallow or wax and used for torches.
Last year, a monster mullein grew and flowered and dried in my front garden. It was 8 feet tall with two dozen side stalks. This was the ideal specimen for making torches. I didn’t want to spread seeds everywhere so I put down a tarp and carefully cut the flower stalk then shook out the seeds on the tarp. I let the stalk dry completely then harvested the side shoots. The flower heads were about 10 inches long and the rest of the stalk “handle” was 12 inches or longer.
Since I didn’t have a ready supply of tallow, I picked up some old candles and a deep, round metal pan at Goodwill. Wax melts at 104 degrees F so I didn’t need a lot of heat to melt the candles. I dipped the flower heads then let the wax harden. I added wax until they had doubled in size. I let the torches cool completely then I lit one. I held the flame until some wax melted and the mullein caught fire. I buried the stalk “handle” in the ground and watch the flames grow. The torch made 8”-10” flames and burned for about a half hour – so cool. Flame on!
I was cleaning up some fallen evergreen limbs and got sap on my hands, coat and furniture. How do you remove pine pitch from skin, cloth and leather? Should I put ice on it or paint thinner or do I need to call a cleaning service? Ugh, there must be a way to get sap off without using toxic solvents. Where was Heloise when I needed her?
As it turns out, the secret to removing sap from just about every surface is isopropyl or rubbing alcohol. Who knew? Apparently, this common household item kills germs and is a solvent for pine pitch. Apply to skin and sap comes right off. In a pinch, hand sanitizer with an alcohol base will remove pitch from skin. For clothes or cloth furniture, lightly soak the area with isopropyl alcohol then wipe off with a rag. Reapply if needed. For glass, leather or painted surfaces, wipe with a rag soaked in isopropyl alcohol. Make sure to rinse off residue with water to prevent damaging paint or leather. Cheap, easy and safe. Thank you, isopropyl alcohol.
A few years ago, while on a tourist day in downtown Seattle, Joan and I tasted our first cappuccinos. It was a day of firsts. We also rode the big wheel on the waterfront and ate Persian food at the Market for the first time. After a lovely visit to SAM we wandered across the street to Café Ladro for an afternoon pick-me-up. Since it was a vacation day, we thought we’d try something new and ordered cappuccinos. The bearded barista hooked us up and we were instant converts. The cappuccinos were the highlight of our day. Delicious, sophisticated and satisfying, we would never order lattes again!
A couple weeks later we thought we’d treat ourselves again and this is when we realized that making a cappuccino is an art. Just because it is on the menu doesn’t mean they will make it as perfectly as the Café Ladro guy. We had some disappointing cups. There must be a way to make a cappuccino at home without all the fancy equipment. What did Italians do before the advent of the espresso machine?
Flashback to Jessica Onetti telling a story about making espresso at the Bullock’s permaculture homestead on Orcas. She used one of those cute little Italian stovetop espresso makers that had been abandoned in the back of the cupboard because nobody knew how to make it work. We found a classic Bialetti moka express at the thrift store for about five bucks. It was easy to find operating instructions on the web, and soon we had shots of espresso but none of the delicious foam. We tried all manner of whisking and frothing but our experiments were disappointing. Then an unnamed YouTube genius showed us the secret to making thick, rich cappuccino foam using a coffee press. A quick dash to the thrift store and six bucks later we were ready to make a low-tech cappuccino. The results were delicious and so easy!
Here’s how to make two or three cups of cappuccino.
Warm 1 ¼ cups of milk in a sauce pan on medium heat to 150 degrees F.
Preheat coffee press with hot water, empty out water before adding milk.
Meanwhile, unscrew the moka express and take out the steel funnel. Fill the lower chamber with cold water up to the valve. Put in funnel and fill with finely ground coffee, don’t tamp down. Wipe any coffee grounds off funnel edge and screw on top carafe.
Put moka express on small burner set to high. Listen for the gurgling to crescendo. When the top carafe is full, remove from heat.
When espresso is done, pour hot milk into preheated coffee press. Pump the plunger up and down a dozen or more times to create rich, thick foam.
Pour 3 ounces of espresso into bowl-shaped coffee cups and spoon foam on top.
As a kid growing up in Arizona, I never really got the whole groundhog predicting the weather thing because we didn’t have groundhogs and by the beginning of February we were well into spring, long past the need for a coat. Stats show that this is a poor way to predict weather and the groundhog is right about half the time. So what’s up with this rodent-weather-prognostication apart from a way to bring tourists to a small Pennsylvania town in the dead of winter?
The tradition of forecasting the length of winter through a hibernating mammal catching a glimpse of its shadow may have come from a German tradition where a bear plays the starring role. Turns out it’s really about the date (February 2nd) and darkness or light; the mammal is local tradition. It is no coincidence that the shadow is a central part of the ritual. In the natural world, only the sun and moon make light and cast a shadow. The first few days of February mark the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.
This is an important date for humans. No matter how dark and cold the weather, from here on out the light will get stronger. This is a time to celebrate the promise of Persephone’s return and the triumph of light over darkness once again. It makes sense that many cultures celebrate their New Year around this time. There are a number of pagan festivals that happen in the first few days of February that celebrate light, agriculture and rebirth.
The groundhog or woodchuck is a most fitting symbol for this resurrection day and much easier to handle than a bear. The marmot is our West Coast relative and shares similar habits and habitats as it’s eastern cousin. It is the largest of the squirrel family. It is the size of a large house cat (about 15 pounds) and spends most of it’s life underground in carefully constructed and brilliantly designed borrows. During the seven to eight months of hibernation, a marmot doesn’t sleep but rather lowers its metabolism so that it is just living. It breaths once every minute or so, its heartbeat slows and its body temperature holds at 40 degrees F, in a near-death state. For this reason, the marmot is associated with shamanic trance states and the mystery of death without dying. It is a cute, furry symbol for rebirth and resurrection.
Sometimes the endless, dark grey days of winter can feel like a near-death state. This year, consider Groundhog Day as the herald of spring, the start of a new year and your own rebirth. Celebrate the fading darkness and the triumph of the light. Shine on!
I love to make pie or wrap some savory mouthful in flaky pastry dough and bake it until golden brown. So delicious. The thing is, mosttimes the thought of trying to get six to seven tablespoons of water to incorporate with two cups of flour without overworking the dough causes me to choose other options for dinner. Then I learned the trick of making pie pastry dough in my food processor – so easy, you’ll want to make two batches at a time. Let’s make some pie dough.
Here’s what you’ll need:
2 cups flour (I use organic unbleached all-purpose white flour from Bob’s Red Mill)
½ teaspoon sea salt
12 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter
6 - 7 Tablespoons ice water
Here’s what to do:
Put 4 ice cubes in 3/4 cups of water, set aside. Put flour and sea salt in the large bowl of your food processor. Pulse 2 or 3 times to incorporate. Cut cold butter into half-inch cubes. Add half of butter to food processor. Pulse 4 times then add the rest of the butter. Pulse 4 to 6 times until butter is the size of little green peas. Put 6 or 7 tablespoons of ice water in a measure cup. Quickly pour ice water into food processor, pulsing as you pour. Continue to pulse until dough starts to come together. Dump dough out on counter, divide in half and make two balls. Put dough balls in a plastic bag and chill for a half hour then roll out. Dough will keep in the fridge for about 5 days, just let it warm up for about an hour before rolling out.
My 3rd graders are studying the Monkey Puzzle tree on campus. I have noticed these unusual trees around the Puget Sound for years but never knew anything about them. More than just a botanical oddity, these trees are really cool and worth considering if you live in the Maritime Northwest.
The botanical name is Araucaria araucana, they are also called Chilean Pine or Monkey Tail Tree. It is an evergreen conifer that grows in part shade to full sun and in a variety of soils as long as there is good drainage. It grows in locations with abundant rainfall and a mild climate. It is extremely tolerant of salt-laden maritime winds and is hardy down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Monkey Puzzle grows natively at elevations above 3,300 feet in the foothills of the Andes in Chile and Argentina. It also thrives in the British Isles, the Maritime Northwest and New Zealand.
Monkey Puzzle got its common name in 1834. The story has it that a proud owner of a young tree was showing it off to a group when one of the visitors remarked that “it would puzzle a monkey to climb that.” The name Monkey Puzzle stuck.
They grow from seeds and are very slow growing. It takes 1 to 2 months for a seed to germinate and it can take up to 30 or 40 years to produce seeds. Monkey Puzzle can grow to be over 100 feet tall and 50 feet across. The trunk can be 3 to 5 feet in diameter. They can live for over 1000 years. Fossils have been found dating back to the time of the dinosaurs.
Monkey Puzzle seeds are edible. The female cones produce many large delicious seeds. Seeds are a staple crop for many indigenous people where it grows natively. Mature trees are highly productive and it is said that 18 female trees could sustain one adult year-round.
Monkey Puzzle are not self-fertile. Flowers are either male or female but only one sex is found on any one plant. It is fertilized by wind. One male plant can fertilize 4 to 6 female trees. They make cones in late fall. Male cones are oblong and shaped like cucumbers. They are 3 to 5 inches long and 2 inches across. Female cones are large and globelike. They can be 5 to 8 inches in diameter. Female cones contain up to 300 seeds and take 1 ½ to 2 years to ripen. Cones are ripe December through January. When mature, cones disintegrate and fall to the ground for easy harvesting.
Araucaria araucana is listed as an endangered species. It is threatened due to logging, overgrazing and massive forest fires in 2001 and 2002 that destroyed thousands of acres of Monkey Puzzle forest. My students and are I actively collecting seeds to eat and grow. With any luck we’ll have some for our May Plant Sale.
Little Flea Don’t Hop On Me!
Our flea problem reared its ugly head twice this fall with the appearance of little white, rice-like pellets popping out of our cat Luke’s butt. Tapeworms again, yuck! Sure, we can poison them and him thereby ridding ourselves of this icky nuisance but we aren’t addressing the real problem – fleas. This tapeworm (which really only infects cats) is transmitted via ingestion of fleas. Luke apparently finds eating fleas a way to rid himself of the itchy pest. More poison applied to the back of Luke’s neck only poisons him and breeds more resilient fleas. We need to reduce our flea population.
To defeat this little jumping pest, I must learn how to outwit it. The flea we are dealing with is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis). The cat flea has a typical insect lifecycle – egg, larva, pupa, adult. Adults suck blood from animal hosts, poop and lay eggs on their hosts. These eggs roll off the host animal anywhere the host lays down. Larvae hatch from eggs and feed on the feces of adult fleas. Feces are little bitty black grains peppered around where your cat sleeps. Larvae pupate in place. Pupa or cocoons are hidden beneath debris or blow with dust bunnies to the edges of the room. Adult fleas emerge from the cocoons and continue the cycle.
Important things to know about flea cocoons. They can be viable for a really long time – like months or years. They are stimulated by vibrations to break open and release adults. Think about it this way, the cocoons are waiting for food to be available; vibrations made by the movement of an animal mean it’s go time. That is why the flea infestation was so sudden in the book Angel’s Ashes.
To outwit the fleas, we need to vacuum frequently, groom our cat with a flea comb daily, wash animal bedding frequently and treat areas with desiccating dusts. Vacuuming is the key. Not only does it suck up eggs, poop, cocoons and some adults, it causes a vibration that excites the cocoons to break open. Close up or freeze vacuum bag to prevent escapees. Flea combs help remove adults, eggs, poop and cocoons from your cat. Dunk the combed-out hair in water with detergent. Launder and change animal bedding each week. Use smooth, soft cloth that is easy to clean and avoid fleece or wood chips that can help camouflage cocoons. Diatomaceous earth is effective at slicing open fleas and drying them out. Just sprinkle it on bedding, furniture and along room edges then vacuum up after 30 minutes. Be sure to use only food grade diatomaceous earth and avoid getting dust in the lungs.
Knowledge is power, now we just have to keep at it. Hop on!