What I Did on My Summer Vacation

As the date of my last post grows smaller and smaller in my rear-view mirror, it becomes harder and harder to jump back in. Sure, it was a busy summer, what with the addition of a little girl into our family, but I've also had a lot of time to try new recipes and experiment with the food we eat. Which is also why I'm a little overwhelmed jumping back in. But when I was at the pool yesterday, I realized that no matter how cold the water looks, once you jump in, it feels amazing!

So here's what I've been up to this summer, in a nutshell. Some of these will find elaboration in the coming weeks.

~ 10 Days of Real Food Challenge: This was the biggest deal for me. Check out this blog, and if you find it overwhelming, take a look at the mini-challenges, such as giving up refined sugars, eating locally, whole grains, the 5-ingredient rule, doing each for one week. (www.100daysofrealfood.com) I had great success with this, and felt great at the end! However, on the evening of the last day, I had a decaf nonfat latte from Caribou, and poured in some sugar. I never put sugar in my coffee. What possessed me to do so is beyond me. But I'm still counting the 10 days as a success!

~ Fresh fruit coming out of our ears!

~ Grandma's Recipes: I asked my mom to look through my grandma's recipe box, partially to reminisce, partially for new ideas. Now I find myself looking through four boxes of handwritten recipes and its so interesting! Especially the recipe titled "Veggie Salad" which lists the first ingredient as lemon jello. Interesting, but don't know if I'll be adding that to my repertoire. I will, however, need to try the recipe titled "Just Good Cookies."

~ Yogurt & Granola: This has been my staple snack this summer. I really like Brown Cow and Stonyfield because they are organic and don't use any artificial sweeteners, stabilizers, or preservatives. And once you make your own granola, you are going to smack yourself in your head for ever buying it off of the grocery shelf. And you can completely make it your own!

I've used a few recipes, but I really like the result using the Barefoot Contessa's Homemade Granola Bars as a starting point.  It does use brown sugar, which does violate the "real food" definition, but you have to do what works for you. I found that when I just used honey or agave, the granola was chewy and didn't have much crunch at all. When I used a little brown sugar, however, it cools into a really nice crunchy cereal. I think (in my own unscientific way) that this is because sugar is a solid at room temperature, and honey and agave are not. So once it cools, the sugar solidifies and gives granola a crunch that makes it perfect with yogurt.

Five-Cup Granola
Using the recipe from Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics as a springboard

3 cups oatmeal (rolled oats or old-fashioned)
2 cups of whatever else you'd like to use in your granola! Here are some things I like to throw in: sliced or slivered almonds, chopped walnuts, Grape Nuts cereal, wheat germ (don't use more than 1/4 cup), unsweetened coconut flakes)
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped dried fruit such as cranberries, dates, raisins, or apricots (optional)

Heat oven to 350. On a rimmed cookie sheet, spread out the oats as well as any nuts that you may be using. Bake for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until lightly toasted. Lower oven temperature to 300.

In a small saucepan, melt and stir together butter, honey, brown sugar, and vanilla, just until combined. 

In a large bowl, combine toasted oats and nuts (if using) with your other ingredients to total 5 cups.  Pour the butter mixture over the cereal mixture, and stir to coat.

Evenly spread the cereal in the sheet pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring after every 7 minutes or so. Remove from oven and set the pan on a cooling rack. As the cereal cools, give it a stir every 10-20 minutes until it is crunchy and cooled. Stir in dried fruit if using.

Serve with milk or yogurt and fresh fruit.

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