The story on the bins.

(As promised, a real explanation for stockpiling.)

I grew up in Mississippi. When I went to grad school in Tennessee, I met other new students from Canada, the Pacific northwest, and New England — and when a few of them found out I was from Mississippi, they seemed to look upon me as a curious specimen, something of a southern-belle mystery, to be studied anthropologically.

Mind you, we were in Tennessee.

Erroneous perceptions and pre-conceived notions aside, there’s something mystical about a state that produces the likes of Eudora Welty, Oprah, Faulkner, BB King, and Sweet Potato Queens. My entire family is still there — and while there are many things I decidedly don’t miss about my deep-southern home (6-months of perpetual outdoor sauna, cat-sized cockroaches), there are also things I do occasionally pine for, and seek out on our return. One of those things is a chain of salvage stores called Hudson’s.

Hudson’s buys stocks of goods from stores that have gone bankrupt, had fire/water/whatever damage, etc., and sells them for big discounts. At your high-end Hudson’s, you might walk in and find a stock of designer clothes for 50% off, or an entire big-chain bookstore stock going at 70% off retail. At the low-end Hudson’s (called “Dirt Cheap,” for real), you walk into what looks like a warehouse-sized garage sale. You dig through damaged clothes, broken furniture, and opened toiletry boxes looking for that gem — that repairable designer silk blouse (retail $450) for $10.

My blood runs Hudson’s blue. I can find ways to pacify my thrifting needs here in Indiana, but nothing compares to that chain of stores.

So imagine my delight when I came across a new salvage store right here in Indianapolis — for dry goods. A place where a guy buys out-of-date and/or damaged-out stock from grocery stores. And one of the grocery stores with which he has a contract is our local Whole Foods.

Angelo’s is a small warehouse with odd hours, and they don’t take plastic. You never know what you’ll find — unless you get on Tony’s good side and he gives you a call when a new shipment’s coming (I’m not quite there yet, apparently). But when he goes to pick up a dozen palettes from Whole Foods, you can end up walking out of his store with everything from Himalayan salt to organic coconut water to chlorine-free feminine products. But if you’re like me, you’re really there for the 25- and 50-pound bags of bulk items.

You know the section in Whole Foods where you buy grains, beans, etc. by the pound in bulk? All of that comes to them direct from the mill, in huge sewn bags. If these bags sit too long in their storeroom, or if they happen to be on a truck that was involved in a fender-bender, it all goes to Angelo’s, unopened. And he sells everything for under 50¢/pound.

In this utopian world of food bargains, there are some rules I choose to live by. First, I am careful not to buy processed whole grains; so no wheat flour, no oat bran, no flax seed mill — these items go rancid so quickly, I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t buying food unfit to eat. Instead, I buy whole wheat berries (one of my kitchen indulgences is a grain mill), dried beans, dry natural sweeteners, rice, and oats. Also, I try to show restraint and not buy things that we don’t already regularly use — so a few weeks ago I passed up 25# of dry pintos, since my kids won’t currently eat them (without lots of blood, sweat, tears, and potential years off my life).

Since finding Angelo’s, I’ve finally been able to stay in our grocery budget. Since I bake much of our bread, make a weekly half-gallon of granola, and use rice as a staple, the ingredients are no longer weekly needs costing up to $3/pound — they are in my basement, in those glistening plastic bins from my local restaurant-supply store.

Per my last post — in theory, I could feed my neighborhood in the case of a natural disaster. The question is, would I. Because you never know how long it will be before Tony heads back to the Whole Foods warehouse. I’ve entertained the idea of arranging an “accident” on a city street — perhaps a mild scratch-up with a Whole Foods delivery truck at a 4-way stop? But then I realize that intentionally crashing into a semi in order to get cheap bulk food items is just a tad bit irrational.

But if we get that grid failure? The neighborhood kids might be on their own.

Reasons to start stockpiling food

  1. You were single and in grad school during the Y2K scare, only concerned with how you were getting to and from New Orleans for New Year’s Eve 1999, and have a vague feeling that you missed out on something.
  2. Nursing a burgeoning case of agoraphobia, you would like to eventually not have to go to the grocery store, at all, ever again.
  3. You like to brag about how long you could continue to feed your family of five in the case of a natural disaster, grid failure, or the impending government shutdown on all organic/natural food.
  4. Concerned about the current state of NFL lockout, you fear the city of Indianapolis will let go its obsessive, relentless pursuit of readiness to host the gajillion football fans that will (or will not?) descend upon our fair city for Superbowl XLVI. You figure that if the city falls short, everyone can come eat at your house.
  5. You are charmed by and respect the food politics of the Mennonites at the farmer’s market, but decide that the long skirt and white bonnet aren’t your look. (Mennonites stockpile, right?)
  6. Obsessed with both containers and restaurant supply stores, you impulsively purchase half a dozen 5-gallon cambro food-grade storage bins. It is only when you get them home that you realize you might want to have something to put in them.
  7. Who doesn’t want 100 pounds of organic rolled oats. Really, tell me one person.
  8. You figure that if you have a 1200 square-foot basement, and don’t plan on ever using it for real, genuine, livable space, you should at least put something useful down there lest it be filled to the brim with the junk to which you are so strangely sentimentally attached that you can’t give it away.
  9. Your personal goal is to feed your family of five on just 10¢ a day.
  10. Hoping to put away a nest egg for your kids’ college education, you want to design and sell a bumper sticker that reads “Bulk. It’s the new black.”
  11. Your paranoia has not reached its full potential.


Yes, those are my own bulk bins, in my own basement. More details on why, really, I’m doing this, later this week.

Winter’s last stand

After a string of 70º days, yesterday morning brought reminder that Old Man Winter still owns March in the midwest. The high was about 38º, and when I walked outside to run errands at 10am, the kids and I were dusted with snow.

But it didn’t stick. I’m grasping firmly to that silver lining.

A wet, gray blanket has been thrown over our city — with the promise to hover clear through the weekend. There’s something about that last little bit of winter, pinning you against a wall like a distracted bully, leaving you with a close-talking, tooth-clenched threat to “take care of you later.” We’d had a taste of birds, buds, and blue sky — enough for us to come out of our cave and dig in the dirt a bit, get blackened fingernails, even fill a laundry basket with sweat-smelling clothes; but the next few days will have us back in hats and heavy coats.

So I did what any reasonable person does when faced with a cold, gray day: I saw a shiny object in the form of a post on the Where Women Cook blog, and chased it, purely for distraction. It was a recipe from David Leite, of Leite’s Culinaria — an orange olive oil cake. The pictures and description planted themselves in my brain like a tiny seed, and later that morning at Trader Joe’s, the idea grew into spontaneous reality as a large bag of honey tangerines ($3) found its way into my cart. I would embrace this last bit of our Canadian-esque winter by baking with citrus. I would seal this deal with the granite sky, appease the clouds of frozen precipitation, and let the season move on.

Of course I can’t bake many recipes without tinkering just a bit. David’s instructions call for naval oranges, and I used my honey tangerines. And while I did venture to reduce the sugar just a touch, I stopped short of adding any whole-wheat flour, still nursing the psychological burns from my last botched experiment. I also poured the thinnish batter into two loaf pans rather than one bundt pan, since we wouldn’t consume that huge cake over a busy weekend, and it’s nice to experiment with freezing a loaf to pull out in emergencies.

After baking yesterday afternoon, I couldn’t help but take a tiny slice from the end, even though David instructed me not to taste it until the second day. So far, so good is what I could say. I’ll admit to not seeing a huge difference in the flavor today — it’s a delicate and moist pound cake with hints of fruity olive oil and orange — but it supposedly peaks on the third day. Only 24 more hours will tell; but perhaps the grace with which it ages is mostly held in its lack of quick deterioration.

Unlike winter. Who, at this point, looks exactly like a grumpy old man, to whom we’d like nothing more than say goodbye.


Tangerine Olive Oil Cake
(adapted closely from this recipe in David Leite’s The New Portuguese Table)

  • 5-6 large tangerines (I used honey tangerines)
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 3/4 tsp kosher salt (or 1 1/2 tsp table salt)
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups mild extra-virgin olive oil
  • confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350º and place rack in middle of oven, removing any racks above. Grease and flour two loaf pans, or one bundt or tube pan.

Finely grate the zest of 3 of the tangerines, and set aside. Squeeze enough of the tangerines to get 1 1/2 cups of juice (this will take 5-6 tangerines). Set juice aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl with a hand mixer), beat the eggs on medium-high speed for about a minute. Lower the mixer to medium speed, and slowly add the granulated sugar. Increase speed back to medium-high, and beat until the eggs are thick and pale, about 3 minutes.

On low speed, alternate adding the flour and olive oil, beginning and ending with flour. Mix just until the last bits of flour are combined. Add the reserved orange juice, stopping to scrape down the bowl as necessary. Mix just until everything is well-combined; batter will be the consistency of a thick pancake batter.

Pour evenly into 2 loaf pans. Bake for about 1 1/4 hours, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. If tops begin to brown too much before cake is done, gently lay aluminum foil over the top, and continue to bake.

Remove finished cakes from oven, and transfer to a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pans, and let cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.


The garden, subconscious.

When Tim and I got married almost 10 years ago, my friend Paige offered to make our cake — a 3-tiered coconut cake with apricot filling. It was lovely, garnished with my mom’s vintage bride and groom cake topper. But getting to that perfect end was not easy for the baker — the apricot filling made for layers that wanted to slip and slide into something more Seuss than Martha.

The night before the wedding, Paige had a nightmare that the cake was trying to kill her. The cake, swollen to a larger-than-human scale, was lumbering down the long hallway of the house where we were staying — wielding a chef’s knife, with intent to harm.

I still laugh, hard, when I tell this story. It’s just classic, in so many ways — how our anxieties are anthropomorphized in our subconscious lives.

Late last week, I awoke in the middle of the night, in a state of panic: I had ordered a case of apples from the orchard at the farmer’s market. This had been an impulse decision — we were out of last fall’s jars of homemade applesauce, and I was so surprised to find a farmer with some seconds left in cold-storage, that I hastily ordered a bushel. (That’s about 40 pounds, if you’re like me and spent 38 years of life not knowing what a bushel was.)

When I awoke in a cold sweat, it wasn’t out of a dream that the apples had sprouted legs and were creeping up our stairway with my kitchen utensils as bludgeoning devices; it was simply out of a sub-conscious realization of what I was facing. I spent a day and a half last week dealing with that bushel of apples — a day and a half that I didn’t really have to spend. Canning is something that, in the end, I believe is worth it. But the process devours space and time at a point determined solely by the harvest. When the apples and tomatoes have reached their prime and begin a downward spiral of deterioration, you have no choice but eat or preserve them.

We have planned a very large (by our standards) garden this year, and it overwhelms me. Not just because I’m not very good at keeping green things alive — but because I know that what we hope it brings will mean a sh*tload of work. I remember reading the parts in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where Barbara Kingsolver talks of her home being invaded by zucchini (we aren’t planting any) and about cases of ripe tomatoes rotting because local farmers couldn’t sell them to the grocery store. Wasted produce keeps me awake at night, and I can’t help but fear I’m not up to the task of preserving the bounty.

Of course, there’s always the chance that there won’t be a bounty, which is the nightmare personalized to the sleeping life of my husband. He ordered the seeds, prepared the beds, and now obsessively watches the seed starts as they pop up out of their moist soil. He coddles them, taking their trays to different locations that might offer more warmth and better light as the sprouts begin to grow leaves. As we sleep in the same bed each night, the thoughts haunting our slumber are of opposite ends of the garden spectrum: he fears a poor harvest, I fear a bumper crop.

I’m willing to admit that mine is the more irrational nightmare (as usual). After all — there is no shortage of people in our neighborhood who would gladly take excess off our hands. But I went into this with an end-result in mind —  perhaps, in retrospect, my plans bite off more than I can chew. I have visions of canning enough tomatoes to get us through winter. An ambitious goal, would you say?

I’ll say. Or, at least, my nocturnal self says — right about the time I awake in a cold sweat, having just escaped a giant, ripe tomato, bearing flesh-eating teeth, intent on having me for dinner.

Carrot-dill salad

Starting in the summer of ’99, I was a server at a restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee, called Lula. I’ve mentioned this place before — it was the sister venture of The (famous) Tomato Head, on the square downtown — serving up an eclectic but well-considered menu of a California-Mexican persuasion. It was hoppin’ on a hot Friday night, where a mix of uber-hip and redneck would mingle, sipping blue agave margaritas and learning how to love beet quesadillas.

I learned a lot about serving that summer. We weren’t allowed to write down orders, so I had to come up with various ways of remembering the orders of each person at a 6-top table (the guy next to the hot girl wants to hold the pickled red onions because he’s sitting next to a hot girl). We were also forbidden from setting wine bottles on the table when opening them — and more than once as I watched my beloved wine tool chew up a bad cork while sweat dripped down my forehead and torso, I had to excuse myself to get a fresh bottle from the bar.

I learned much about food as well, and how flavors work together. One of my favorite menu items was the black bean quesadilla — it offered layers of black beans, manchego, goat cheese, and a carrot-dill salad, all melted within a flour tortilla, topped with crema and pickled red onions. The beans and goat cheese together were a heavenly match; but the carrot dill salad was the surprise, the little bit of sparkle, the special sauce. It helps that I can take a handful of fresh dill and gnaw on it like candy; but even without my devotion to the fronds, it would have been perfection in a flatbread.

To this day, when I eat the old frugal standby of black beans and rice, I want nothing more than a generous topping of carrot-dill salad. And since absence makes the heart grow fonder, my obsession will never wane; for fresh dill at the market can be hard to come by — and I’ve had little luck growing my own. This means that we get to eat carrot-dill salad once in a blue moon. If blue moons come every 5-6 months or so.

This recipe is made to eyeball — just taste it and see what it needs. If you pick up a large bunch of dill (my Whole Foods had them this week for $3), keep it unwashed in a ziplock bag with a half-sized paper towel, the bag half-sealed. It should last in the fridge for about a week.


This is one of the few times I get out the grating attachment on my food processor — so I make a lot of salad to make it worth my while. If you don’t have a food processor, you can grate the carrots on a box grater (watch your knuckles!) — and the recipe halves well.

Carrot-Dill Salad

  • About 4 cups shredded carrots (6-8 large carrots)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (can sub lime juice)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Toss together the carrots and dill in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, honey, and salt until an emulsion forms. Pour the dressing over the carrots, tossing to coat. Taste for seasoning, adding more lemon juice or salt if necessary.

Best served the day it’s made, but will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a couple days.



So, birthdays stress me out. The birthdays of my kids.

It’s just one of those many things in life that, on paper, seems like a no-brainer for a happy day. And usually, on the actual day that commemorates the day I gave birth to one of my three utterly and undeniably delightful children, it is a joy-filled day. We start with copious and excessive snuggles and a special breakfast; we open a present or two from Mom and Dad or grandparents. The birthday girl or boy gets to pick what’s for dinner, and if the official party is on a different day than the birthday, we’ll do cupcakes with candles and singing and the whole shebang, on a microcosmic single-family scale, and it’s all good.

So I’ve been trying to analyze this. I know it’s the party — but what is so stressful about a seemingly benign birthday party?

Well, sure — there are the actual kids. While I love mine beyond the boundaries of the universe, and even like most of my kids’ friends, I’m not typically drawn to situations where there are 8-10 kids together in one place, with me in charge. Kid chaos + Katy = headache and a strong desire for gin & tonic.

And then there’s the party. Because while, yes, that birthday party we went to last year at the bowling alley was lots of fun, and seemed to be really easy on the parents since everything was done by the staff, it probably cost as much as several American Girl dolls. And, the way we live, you can usually have either the party or the American Girl doll, but not both — which can be difficult to explain to a 6-year old.

Which, really, gets to the heart of my anxiety. It’s knowing that, for as long as I hear my kids talk about their next birthday — a never-ending soliloquy which starts the day after their last one — that for the whole year leading up to the event, with all the daydreaming fed by the birthdays of friends and the list of gifts fed by every toy seen at those friends’ houses, the guest-list growing with each new playmate and classroom, that the party will most often end in disappointment.

When I think about this in moments of objectivity, I know it comes with the territory. That most every birthday party I’ve ever witnessed ends with the kid-of-honor in some form of tantrum or tears. And we always say, Oh, he must just be so exhausted, poor guy — just too much fun for one day! And this is true in a way — but at the same time, isn’t it also the fact that, already, at age 5, our kids have learned to put all of their happiness-eggs into one basket? That after a year of dreaming, no party could possibly live up to the one in their imagination?

Our Little Man turned five last week. For about six months now, ever since going to a friend’s party there, he has asked to celebrate his birthday at Chuck E. Cheese’s (or, as I recently hear it euphemistically referred to, Charles E. Frommage’s). And then just last week, he told me he wanted a “police car cake.” And as mom to this adorable, loved boy, it is my job to figure out how to make this happen in some form or fashion — to help him receive what he’s asked for, grant him a portion of his wish — while not breaking our bank or sanity.

So we told him we could go to Chuck E. Cheese’s, but only with our family and maybe one or two friends (I can handle two hours of bad pizza, video games, and visual over-stimulation, but not while simultaneously keeping up with 8 four-year olds). And I would make the police car cake — but could Mommy interpret it loosely? After last year’s last-minute Leaning Fire Truck adventure, I was wary of tackling another edible public safety vehicle.

The plan was laid: we would meet some friends for dinner at Chuck’s, eat some bad pizza, and give everyone enough tokens to fill a couple hours with car rides and ski ball. I baked a square, double-layer cake, and went to Target in search of toy police cars for easy decoration. When Target’s Hot Wheels section left me surprisingly high-and-dry, I found the best police car specimen in the Lightning McQueen department, making it a Cars Cake with Police Car rather than a police car cake. And the birthday boy seemed fine with all of this. On Friday night, he danced with a happy rodent on video, threw balls in the general direction of point-scoring holes, rode virtual jet skis with his Dad, and gathered tickets. He ate his birthday cake, even though I had taken his birthday as an opportunity to experiment with using whole wheat pastry flour in cake-baking, learning that you should never use whole-wheat pastry flour in cake-baking, not if you plan to enjoy the cake. But the whole of the night, he seemed to be searching. Searching desperately for the next thing that was going to make this birthday his dream-come-true.

The tantrum started when it came time to spend their won tickets, and he didn’t have enough to get what he wanted from the glass case. Then on the way home, he asked tear-filled questions like, “Why didn’t I get more presents?” and “Why weren’t all of my school friends there?” and “Why couldn’t I get the shiny frog?” and my heart started to break for him. Not so much out of regret for the decisions we’d made, but out of knowledge that he is already beginning this cycle that we continue, right up through adulthood.

Because I’ve had my share of birthdays. And while I am old enough now to know that a party at Chuck E. Cheese’s isn’t all it was once cracked up to be, I am still not over that vague sense of disappointment when the day is over. Disappointment that the world didn’t stop turning so that 4 billion people could join hands and sing to me — which, in my heart of hearts, in my most honest moments of daydreaming revealed, is pretty much what I expect to happen. Still, after almost (but not quite yet) 40 years.

I’ve always said, of my kid’s birthdays, I bake the cake. When the parents drop-off and see me finishing it as the party begins — even though I’m really not that great at decorating (c.f. the aforementioned Tilting Fire Engine cake) — they always respond with questions about why in the world do you do this? That it’s worth it just to order it, it’s so easy, and so-and-so’s bakery does a fantastic job.

But it comes down to my limitations and insecurities. I am not a good kid-person, not an entertainer. I’m not a good party-planner, I’m too cheap to hire out a bowling alley or magician or trip for 10 to the American Girl Doll store. But I can bake a cake. And bake cakes, I will — I will let them pick the flavor and theme, and try hard as I can to make it like they want it.

Because I can’t keep them from desiring more than a birthday party can possibly fulfill — but in baking a cake, I can only hope that there is a part of them that consumes a belief: they are special enough, to their mom and dad, for the world to stop, and sing to them a birthday song.

The Granola Recipe: Third Time’s the Charm. (alt. subtitle: This Time She’s Serious)

I mean, really. How could a person, over the course of 3 years, post three different recipes for virtually the same variation of granola? It’s not like scones, where each recipe boasts a new flavor or variation. These are just your basic granola recipes: oats, nuts, honey, etc. — but each (I claim) is “new” and even “improved.” Do I have nothing better to do than sit around and think of new ways to bake granola?

Apparently not (though I can count on a few fingers the people and piles of laundry that might take issue with that).

I like to think of granola a little like a wardrobe — you’re always going to have your basics, but as the years go by, you accessorize differently, throw out what bores you, and keep what’s comfortable. I’ve been making granola on a regular basis for almost 10 years — I’ve had pumpkin phases, molasses phases, and wheat germ phases. I’ve flirted with pecans, had a one-night stand with chocolate chips, and relied most heavily on the backbone of tried-and-true almonds. For this latest rendition of our favorite breakfast, I employ different methodology: soaking.

Soaking grains is a way to reduce their content of phytic acid. There are many other blogs out there that address this issue in much more detail that I will in this post, but in short, phytic acid is component of grains, nuts and legumes that inhibits absorption of many of the nutrients those foods contain, and is also linked to irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive issues. While not perfect (by any stretch) in our attempts to reduce phytic acid in our foods (I tried for a while, to the detriment of my sanity), I do try to pre-soak (or sprout) beans, nuts, and grains when I can manage it.

Since granola is something we eat almost daily, I was particularly interested in finding a way to soak the components before baking. After reading and trying many recipes that provide this step, I landed on one that we still enjoyed eating and didn’t require much more work — just a little more forethought.

In addition to soaking, there are a couple of other changes I’ve made to our granola: I’ve stopped using wheat germ and canola oil. I tossed out wheat germ after learning that since it has such a short shelf-life once processed, almost all bags in the grocery (or bulk section) are already rancid. I have also stopped using canola oil in the past couple of years, and have replaced the fat in my recipe with coconut oil, a very shelf-stable fat that boasts many beneficial qualities.

My disclaimer is — and yes, you may laugh a hearty chuckle of disdain — I don’t really know if the soaking methods used in my new recipe are actually doing anything. I’ve had a hard time finding clear information on the liquid/acid/grain ratio requirements for adequate soaking — and unfortunately granola has been all but outlawed by many of the resources I search for this information (it being such a brazenly-embraced way of ingesting massive amounts of phytic acid). But we still love it — for its crunch, frugality, and ability to fuel us our bodies straight through ’til lunch. So I do what I can, and hope for the best. Feel free to tell me where I’m going wrong, if you are a holder of that information. Or, let me continue in potentially-erred ways, blissfully unawares.

You can either start this early in the morning, soak it all day and bake it at night, or let it soak overnight and bake it the next day. Either way, you’ll be putting together most of the ingredients, then letting it sit for about 8-12 hours before finishing it up and baking it. I usually do the former, and then let the baked granola sit in the still-warm oven overnight to thoroughly dry out. I go through a lot of coconut oil in my granola obsession — so I buy it by the gallon (for baking, I use a refined oil that is more neutral-tasting than its raw counterpart). Lastly, I slip the skins off the almonds after soaking — for some reason I find this to be therapeutic, but if you think it sounds like a form of Chinese water torture, then just purchase blanched almonds.

* UPDATE: This recipe was updated from the original on July 5, 2011. A friend mentioned that honey is anti-microbial, and might interfere with fermentation during the soaking process. So I’ve added water to the soak, and kept all sweeteners out until just before baking. Hopefully this will go even further in neutralizing phytic acid.


Soaked Granola

for soaking:

  • 6 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (alternative flours ok)
  • 1 cup unsweetened dried coconut
  • 1 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 6 Tbsp plain yogurt or whey (the liquid that separates from yogurt)
  • 2 cups raw almonds
  • 1 1/2 cups very warm water

In a very large bowl, toss together the oats, flour, and coconut. Warm the coconut oil and water together (stovetop or microwave) until they stir easily. Add the yogurt, and stir vigorously to emulsify as much as possible. Pour this liquid over the oats, and stir to thoroughly coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a large plate, and let sit in a warm place for 8-12 hours (I cover it very tightly with plastic wrap and place it in my food dehydrator, set at about 95º).

In a separate, smaller bowl, combine the almonds and water. Cover and let soak for about 8 hours.

for the final mixing and baking:

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sucanat or honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300º, and oil or butter two large sheet pans. Have oven racks in two outer-middle positions.

Drain the soaked almonds, and slip off the skins (discard). Chop the almonds finely, and add to the soaked oats. Stir to combine — this will be difficult at first if your oats have been in a cold kitchen (the coconut oil re-solidifies and clumps everything together).

Warm together the honey, water, and sucanat. Add the salt and vanilla, and stir to dissolve. Pour this liquid over the oats/almonds, and stir to coat.

Divide evenly between baking sheets, spreading to the edges, pressing down gently to pack it into the pans. Bake for about 25 minutes. Remove pans, and flip/stir the granola in each pan. Return pans to oven, switching top to bottom and front to back, and continue cooking for another 20 minutes. Stir again, and return to oven if necessary. Once desired color is reached, remove pans and turn off the oven. After oven has cooled for about 10 minutes, you can return the pans to the oven to let sit overnight. Otherwise, let cool completely in the pans before serving (granola will get crisper as it cools).


This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS.

Pommes frites {that’s French for french fries}

Confession 1: I spent most of my life thinking that french fries were invented by McDonald’s.

Confession 2: For most of that time, I also thought that the word pommes was French for apples (yes, plural, because one apple would be a pomme, right?).

An aside: I decided to take German to fulfill my four-semester language requirement in college. The reason being that it started at 9am, and French started at 8. Outside of once having a graduate-school experience with rouladen, this decision has not helped much in my culinary adventures.

I have no idea when I became pompous worldly cookbook-obsessed enough to know the real definition of pommes frites — but I do know that today I used the term in an email to friends, telling them that’s what I’d be contributing to our community group dinner — and while I knew, typing it, that it sounded pretentious, I couldn’t bring myself to type that I was bringing “french fries.” Because that connotes me going through a drive-thru, then walking in the door with a greasy sack of deep-fried previously-frozen potato sticks and a dozen packets of ketchup.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love me some restaurant french fries. The waffle variety, in particular — I have a weakness for the ones from Chic-fil-A (you can take the girl outta the South…) with a side of Polynesian Sauce. Yes, it’s loaded with HFCS (I never said I was a puritan — but I stop short of stashing a drawer-full of the stuff at my house).

But I had never actually made pommes frites — they are quite different from home fries — until just a few weeks ago. We were invited to participate in another lavish dinner at the home of our Wine Benefactor. The theme was All Things Frenchfirst-growth Bordeaux wines (wines that I should never have had access to in my entire life), and food. After I whined publicly about my previous fried mozzarella homework, the powers-that-be got sneaky, and decided to assign me with frog legs and pommes frites — two dishes I’ve never before tackled (or eaten, in the case of the amphibious legs, which I was hoping was the case for most guests so no one would know whether I’d blown it). In the heat of the stage-like kitchen, I was pleased with my performance. Frog legs? They taste more like very tender pork than chicken, and have about as much meat as a quarter of a chicken wing. And pommes frittes? When you do them right, they are amazing. Worth the time, like making a three-layer cake with homemade buttercream.

I was forwarded instructions that were taken from a Thomas Keller recipe. I am told that the key to good frites is to cut the potatoes as uniformly as possible (a bit tricky if like me you don’t own a mandoline); rinse and soak the potatoes for a couple hours, then make sure they are completely dry; and finally, double-fry them. If it sounds like a lot of work, I’ll confirm that it is. But the results had people hovering at the stove, the night of our dinner, begging me for the recipe — and for a good grilled-steak-or-burger night, I can see how the effort would pay off. But for regular weeknight fried-potato needs, I’m sticking with the ease of home fries.

One of my favorite places in Indianapolis to get a good beer is a restaurant called Brugge. They serve amazing frites, and offer a myriad of sauces to accompany, everything from aioli to curry to pesto. Next time I make these for a crowd, I plan to offer my own sides, something more exciting than the ketchup we tend to reach for when it comes to fried potatoes.

Try them, if you’re feeling fancy. Or if you’ve always wondered what apples frieds taste like — those wacky French.


Pommes Frites
(adapted from a recipe by Thomas Keller)
serves 6

  • 8 russet potatoes, well-scrubbed
  • 24-32 oz (about one quart) peanut oil
  • a few tablespoons duck fat (optional)
  • a candy thermometer
  • large, heavy-bottomed skillet
  • sea salt

You’ll need a good chef’s knife to cut the potatoes (unless you have a mandoline). After scrubbing, cut each potato in half, lengthwise. Then cut each piece in half again, lengthwise. Cut each quarter into long 1/4″ slices (the first joint of your index finger is about an inch — you can eyeball-measure by cutting them about a quarter of that length). Then stack the slices, and cut into 1/4″ sticks. Discard any pieces that are too thin or uneven, as they will over-cook. As you slice, place potato sticks in a large bowl.

Cover potato sticks with water. Change water at least 3 times over a 30-minute time period, and continue soaking for another hour (or overnight? I did this and it worked fine).

Drain potatoes thoroughly, and spread on towels to air-dry.

Once potatoes are quite dry, pour oil (and optional duck fat) into your frying pan. Using a candy-thermometer, heat oil to about 320º. Fry potatoes in batches, for about 4-5 minutes, until they are cooked through but not brown. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate and repeat until all potatoes are cooked (you can do this a few hours in advance, and leave at room-temperature). Reserve the cooking oil.

For second frying, heat oil to 365-375º. Fry in batches again, for about 4-5 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Remove to a fresh paper-towel-lined plate, and season immediately with sea salt (coarse or fine). Repeat until all potatoes are fried. Serve with an assortment of dipping sauces.